Die hard football fans have spent much of the last two months scouring the internet for as much information on players entering the 2011 NFL Draft as they possibly can. While some enjoy this practice simply to get an idea where their team can legitimately hope to improve for the coming season, others enjoy being a part of the draft science that each team practices in April.
For Indianapolis Colts fans, Vice Chairman Bill Polian makes things somewhat interesting by taking the steadfast “best player available” approach to each of his draft selections. Ultimately, this means that even though fans, NFL experts, and amateur analysts may identify one position as the greatest team weakness, Polian may select a player who plays at a position of lesser need if he feels the players available at the other positions are not worth the pick.
The “BPA” philosophy, as often discussed, is a bit misleading. I believe what Polian and the Colts draft team does is closer to determining the Most Valuable Player Available (MVPA). If the draft room believes that the difference in talent between the fourth and ninth best draft prospects is very small at one position — even if it is the greatest position of need — but a player available at another position is the clear leader of his position — or even the whole remaining draft pool — he will look to get greater value out of the “higher need” player by picking the “seventh best” prospect a round later rather than reaching for the fourth best.
Following this philosophy, the Colts yield a better overall player at one position and address their greatest need with a player who is nearly indistinguishable in projected talent or NFL success from the three or four players rated above him in the following round. If Indianapolis went the other way, drafted the fourth best player at the highest position of need and does not get a player nearly as talented as the one they could have selected in the earlier pick, the idea is that they have gotten less value out of those two picks. It is in this way that the lines between “need” and “talent” cross — creating value.
In order to generate a meaningful discussion on which players and positions fans should expect the Colts to target in the 2011 NFL Draft, it is good to break down each position following the MVPA model for each of Indy’s draft picks.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has explicitly stated that whatever it takes to keep Peyton Manning on the team will be done. There is no reason to doubt that whatever offer Manning is looking for will be satisfied and that he will sign what could — and probably will — be the last contract of his career. The length of that contract will be between four to seven years, with five or six years being most likely.
Two things make the quarterback position have a relatively low value for the Colts in the high rounds. The first is that Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play professional football. The second is that Manning is the most durable player in the NFL today, and may break Brett Favre’s record streak of consecutive games started before he hangs up his cleats. This makes the value of a backup quarterback drop significantly.
The National Football Post speculated today that Indianapolis is seriously considering bringing in Manning’s successor to be trained and groomed in this draft or the 2012 NFL Draft. With a relatively shallow quarterback draft class in 2011 the value may not be there, particularly in the early rounds, but each realistic player will be considered and evaluated.
Round 1 – Pick 22
Blaine Gabbert – Missouri – Will be selected well before the Colts. A trade up for a long-term backup brings extremely low value. Low value.
Cam Newton – Auburn – Will likely be selected before the Colts and is not a system fit. If Polian and company went this direction it would make little sense as Newton’s skillset does not lend itself to learning the “Manning way.” Low value.
Christian Ponder – Florida State – Ponder may slip down to the Colts but his value is low due to questions surrounding the health of his throwing elbow, a lack of arm strength, and because he is likely more suited to a West Coast offense. Low value.
Round 2 – Pick 53
Colin Kaepernick – Nevada – Kaepernick is one of the more intriguing quarterback prospects in the draft due to his size, intelligence, and arm strength. This will encourage teams selecting near the top of the second round to consider him. His speed and elusiveness are key attributes that make him more valuable for different systems. Moderate to low value.
Jake Locker – Washington – Locker may be the best fit for the Colts in the 2011 draft class, in terms of potential to be successful in the Manning/Colts system. In three years Locker would present significant value for Indianapolis. With the talent available on the offensive and defensive lines — much higher need positions — he does not in at this pick in 2011. Moderate to low value.
Andy Dalton – TCU – The biggest red flag for a team like the Colts has to be that he is already 24 years old, meaning that he will be nearly 30 by the time he will be asked to take over for Manning. Age alone drops his value this high in the draft significantly. Low value.
Round 3 – Pick 87
Ryan Mallett – Arkansas – Mallett has questions surrounding his public intoxication charge, suspected drug use, and questionable attitude. Throw in difficulty standing strong under pressure in the pocket and he does not seem like a good fit. Low value.
Round 5 – Pick 152
Ricky Stanzi – Iowa – If Stanzi drops to the fifth round he could offer the kind of skill set as a team leader from a pro style offense — and the physical attributes — that a team could work with over a five year period to be ready to step in for Peyton Manning. Unfortunately he would turn 29 years old when he took over, assuming five years. Some have questioned his decision-making, though he improved in his senior season. He is a Big 10 player which the Colts value. Moderate value.
There are numerous other quarterback prospects that could warrant further attention and discussion. However, I believe this draft is relatively poor in quarterback talent and depth. Beyond Stanzi the value begins to drop off primarily because a sixth round pick would not bring much more to the table than what Indianapolis could get from an undrafted free agent signing. If the rumors are true that the Colts are looking to bring in Manning’s successor in the near future, 2012 may be a better option. The talent on the offensive and defensive lines is significant in 2011. The need at safety could also sway the value line away from a weak class at quarterback. Luxury picks in 2011 may be better used at wide receiver and/or cornerback.